Sunday, September 11, 2011

Great Opening Night Win

So we decided to take a little journey to the land of the opening night hoopla.  I have been to opening day games before, and there is always a special, "back to football at last!" sort of flavor to the first game, or even to the first home game.  But I have never been to an opening night Thursday game, much less to a special, Thursday night opening game with everyone watching, and with a concert outside the stadium, colored cards for visual stunts taped to the seats, etc. Plus, the last two Super Bowl Champions facing off, Rodgers vs. Brees, the Packers' long list of receivers vs. the Saints' long list of receivers, fireworks being shot off, the whole nine yards.  You could certainly say that the game had a playoff feel to it.

Last week I wondered if the Packers would remember lessons learned from last year and stay aggressive.  Early returns suggest that they remember very well.  They started the game in a modified no-huddle type of offense, which worked so well during the pre-season and at times last year, and drove right down the field for a touchdown on the first drive.  A fumble recovery led to another quick touchdown, before the pace of the game settled down a bit.  They were also aggressive enough on defense to put a lot of heat on Drew Brees.  You could perhaps criticize Mike McCarthy for going a little bit into his shell on the last couple of offensive possessions.  I suppose that if the game goes down to the very last play with the winner in doubt, maybe it is fair to say that McCarthy went conservative a little too early.

Except for those last couple of possessions, the Packers' offense looked great.  Do did the Saints' offense.  Stuck in traffic on the way up to Green Bay, I heard various predictions on the radio about how the offenses are always behind the defenses at this time of year, so the score would probably be something like 17-13.  Yeah, right.  These offenses were on fire, in a way that I thought was not a poor reflection on the defenses so much as it was a sign of excellence on the offensive side of the ball.

Speaking of which, stuck in traffic again on the way back from Green Bay, we heard some Bears fan call in to NFL Satellite Radio, licking his chops about how bad the Packers' and Saints' defenses are, and predicting a 3-0 record for the Bears after facing the Falcons, Saints and Packers.  Talk about whistling past the graveyard!  I think 1-2 or 0-3 are far more likely.  We shall see, but despite the fact that the Bears won the division last year, played the Packers very tough, almost knocked them out of the playoffs, and almost beat them with their third-string quarterback, I am just not sold on the Bears.

Of course, there were some bad things in the game, like the old special teams problem rearing its ugly head, and some unnecessary penalties.  There was a scary-looking injury to Tramon Williams, but it appears that it is not as serious as it looked.  On the whole, what a great way to start the season for the Packers.  And for the NFL and NBC, I don't know how they could have asked for a better game.  On the offensive side of the ball, the Packers got a lift from the return of Jermichael Finley, and the combination of Ryan Grant and James Starks looks like it should be productive.  And then there was Randall Cobb.  A rookie, backup receiver and kick returner, scores his first two touchdowns on a huge stage, ties an all-time kickoff return record, and becomes the first NFL player born in the 1990's!

The Packers' defense, despite giving up 34 points, came up with two huge stops to save the game - first on a 4th and inches play late in the third quarter.  The Packers must have smelled a pass, because they came after Brees, chased him backwards about 20 yards, before he finally got rid of the ball on a short pass that had no chance of resulting in a first down.  Then, after an interference call on A.J. Hawk on what should have been the last play of the game, the Saints got one final chance, with zero seconds left, to get the ball in the end zone from the 1 yard line.  Maybe because of the 4th and inches failure earlier, Sean Payton decided to switch things up and try a dive by Mark Ingram over the center of the line.  But the Packers, this time, smelled the run (one of the defensive linemen said something about seeing the Saints' offensive linemen clenching their fists, and they knew it would be a running play).  So the defensive linemen went low, to avoid being pushed backwards, and four linebackers and defensive backs went high to stuff Darren Sproles Mark Ingram for no gain.  Final score: Packers 42, Saints 34.


  1. Thanks to Steve Erbach for noticing my error in the final sentence.

  2. I took a shot at the Bears in this post, saying that I was not sold on them (I'm still not), and predicting that they would be 0-3 or 1-2 after 3 games. Well, they outperformed by expectations in game 1, doing a beat-down of the Falcons. As Zach Kruse, of Jersey Al's site said,

    "It was only one week, but they made idiots out of a lot of people who buried them this season before a single down of meaningful football was played."

    I guess I am one of those idiots.